Hindu Vivek Kendra
Christians in India Today

In the ultimate analysis, the Hindutvavadis would like to state on what basis do they think that the Christians can co-exist with the Hindus in India. More than 95% of the Christians in this country are converts from Hinduism. They have the same biological ancestors as the Hindus. In the central ethos of Hinduism (Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudda Vadanti), people are free to choose their own method of salvation.

Time and again Hindus have proved that non-Hindus can live honourably in their midst. Some have assimilated both culturally and spiritually. Some have assimilated culturally, but have kept their own religion. The Hindus have no objection. The Christians and the Muslims have not assimilated culturally.

The Christians should accept that the Hindu's way of salvation is as valid as the way through Christ, and that salvation is possible in other faiths as well. There has to be a formal break from the ambiguity and double-speak of the Vatican and the Indian hierarchy. I recognise that this would go against the central ethos of Christianity as propagated by the churches. But, is exclusivism a rational position? Does it not lead to social tensions?

A senior RSS leader was once asked by a Christian, "Since you believe in Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava, why are you against conversion?" The reply was, "Since you do not believe in Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava, I am against conversions." Only when there is reciprocity can there be communal harmony. It is for the Christians to make the appropriate moves.

The Hindutvavadis would like a judicial regulation of conversion. Much propaganda is made that the Constitution of India permits conversion. This is a travesty. The Constitution gives freedom to propagate one's religion. But no right can be absolute, and this freedom is subject to 'public order, morality, health and other essential provisions'. Hence, this right cannot impinge on the duty towards the society. This matter has also been settled in the Supreme Court as far as back as 1977, when the challenge to the Madhya Pradesh bill to regulate conversion was dismissed. That conversions create social tension has been explained in details in Chapter III. Christians are also concerned when a member of one Christian sect defects to another Christian sect, let alone to a non-Christian sect.

Conversions cause alienation. While the Parsees have assimilated in the society, and followed the requests made by the King of Sanjan, Jadi Rana, the situation in Vasai as explained in the article by Larry Pereira (Chapter II) is exactly the opposite. Every country and civilisation has its own symbols, and their maintenance is important for the cultural unity.

The Hindutvavadis would like the foreign missionaries to leave this country. This is not a new demand, but a very old one. Mahatma Gandhi and some Christians were also of the same view. The foreign missionaries have their own agenda in addition to conversions. They want the people to forget their culture and civilisation. They want to have total control over the church apparatus, and wish to maintain their power. In the process, the local development of the church does not take place.

The foreign funding of Christian activities in this country should be stopped. The funds come here with conditions, and so make the Indian institutes subservient to the needs of the paymasters. This is particularly important to increase the confidence about the true intent of the Christian activities in this country, given that the past has been so bitter.

The Christian churches in India must make it very clear that their loyalty lies with this country. This fear is not unfounded. The present Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Shri Tony Blair, is an Anglican while his wife is a Roman Catholic. The children are raised up as Roman Catholics. Even while attending the mass of the Church of England, he used to often accompany his wife to the mass of the Roman Catholic Church. One day, when his wife was not in town, he decided to attend a Roman Catholic mass on his own. This created a lot of furore in the United Kingdom, and senior members of the Church of England hierarchy expressed a fear that he might be converting to Roman Catholicism. One such member wrote an article in a leading daily in the United Kingdom ("Rome is not for you just yet, Mr Blair", Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, The Times, London, March 9, 1998). He said that, upon conversion, the prime minister may give in to the dictates of the Vatican on issues which conflict with that of the country's needs.

A similar fear was expressed during the time of the John F Kennedy's campaign for the president of the United States. The Kennedy family is Roman Catholic, and he had to make a special announcement that he will not be guided with what Vatican has to say. On issues like family planning the Vatican has always taken an obscurantist stand in opposing it.

Just as Mahatma Gandhi had asked them not to use social service as a means of conversion, the Hindutvavadis do the same. We believe that at the time of such conversions, the person is in a weak state of mind and spirit, and is more likely to be swayed by emotions rather than reason. While raising the funds for these social ill not service activities, a clear statement should be made that it will not lead to conversions. Many of the fund raising activities ill Europe and the United States have explicitly stated that the social service activities will greatly assist in conversions.

The Christian laity should be more independent of the church hierarchy. They should speak out more forcefully when the Hierarchy is in the wrong - be they temporal matters or theological. Particularly in the latter, where there is a question of double standards, it is the dharma of the laity that they should not be seen as acquiescing to something that is patently wrong. When we had the discussion with the Christian group, while making it clear that they represent only themselves, they said that they would not come out openly against the church hierarchy on any issue. Such servitude does little credit to the community.

The banning of the writings of Fr Anthony De Mello, mentioned earlier, is a case in point. The actions taken by the Roman Catholic Church clearly exposes that the exclusivist thinking is still prevalent. In its generally favourable comment on the 13th encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Faith and Reason, The Guardian Weekly (Oct 25, 1998) said in its editorial, "But the record of the Church over the past two decades is strikingly at odds with the message of Faith and Reason. With a severity unseen for many decades, it has singled out theologians who transgress the ideological boundaries for humiliation, even cruel punishment: Tissa Balasuriya, Leonardo Boff, Hans Kung, to name a few."

The Indian Christian community has done very little to make its opposition to this type of tyranny. This inaction reinforces the fear that, as in the past, the Christians will always support the church even if it is not in the interest of the nation. I had sent a copy of the Vatican document which justifies the banning of the books of Fr De Mello to one Fr CM Paul of Calcutta. In an amazing acknowledgement of the receipt, he says, "I wouldn't be surprised it is all part of a great sales gimmick!" Now, why the Vatican wants to promote books which it is seeking to ban is beyond our comprehension. If Fr Paul made the statement in jest, it is surely in very poor taste.

The Christians in India have to learn to accommodate their philosophy within the Hindu paradigm, which is also the paradigm of their biological ancestors. This accommodation has been made by others who have come from outside, and not only have they survived, but have also prospered. It is not only what the Hindutvavadis expects of Christians that is important. Indian Christians have to determine their own place in the society in India.

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